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Thursday, August 17th, 2017Last Update: Tuesday, August 1st, 2017 01:57:38 PM

Oklahoma Supreme Court Orders Removal of Ten Commandments Monument

By: Constitution Staff

Oklahoma Republican Governor Mary Fallin says the Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol will remain, despite the June 30 ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court that it violated the state constitution, and must be removed. Fallin's action came as Oklahoma's Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, also a Republican asked the Oklahoma court to reconsider its 7-2 decision, which directed its removal. "Oklahoma is a state where we respect the rule of law, and we will not ignore the state courts or their decisions," Fallin explained. "However, we are also a state with three coequal branches of government."

Pruitt said, "Quite simply, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong. The court completely ignored the profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments on the foundation of Western law. Furthermore, the court's incorrect interpretation of Article 2, Section 5, contradicts previous rulings of the court." Pruitt's office filed a petition with the court for a rehearing "in light of the broader implications of this ruling on other areas of state law." But, on July 27 the high court denied the request by the same 7-2 vote. The state Supreme Court's removal order overturned a district court opinion that the monument could remain. The high court will next send an order to the lower court telling it to formally order its removal. State officials are reviewing legal options for preserving the monument.

The court's decision also brought criticism from outside the legislative and executive branches of state government. The Rev. Paul Coakley, the Catholic archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, argued, "The Supreme Court's decision to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the Capitol grounds ignores its historical significance in the formation of our state and as an ancient law code having prominence at the place where lawmakers work to enact wise and just laws."

Supporters of the monument have argued that the Ten Commandments does not violate the state constitution, because the money for its erection was privately donated, and its placement at a location where laws are made accomplishes an historical purpose. No sect or "system of religion" is going to use the monument, and its erection does not provide "support" for any official of any religion, contrary to the findings of the state high court.

The action of the state's high court, in response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of three plaintiffs, has caused a storm of protest in the Sooner state, with legislators calling for the impeachment of the seven justices who ruled against the monument. While Oklahoma is a solidly Republican state, with the Republicans in control of both chambers of the legislature, and in charge of the executive branch, eight of the judges were appointed by liberal Democrat governors.

Article 2, Section 5, of the state constitution, cited by the high court in its controversial decision. Critics of that section of the state constitution contend that it is a version of the so-called Blaine Amendment, enacted in 1875, out of concern over the rising tide of Roman Catholic immigration into the country. Congressman James G. Blaine authored the amendment, which passed the U.S. House 180-7, but failed the required two-third vote in the Senate. However, many states opted to include a version of the "Blaine Amendment" in their state constitutions. Oklahoma, which entered the Union in 1907, was one of what eventually included 38 states which incorporated some variation of the wording in their fundamental law.

Actually, the portion of the state constitution is worded somewhat differently from the proposal by Blaine. The actual Blaine Amendment is much more explicit in its requirement that no state monies be used for religious schools. The Blaine Amendment stated that "no money raised by taxation in any state for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect, not shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations." This wording is not found in Article 2, Section 5, of Oklahoma's Constitution, but even under the wording of the original Blaine Amendment, it is difficult to grasp how the Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded the monument violated the state constitution.

And, when one considers the preamble to the Oklahoma State Constitution, "Invoking the guidance of Almighty God," one must wonder just how is that guidance for a system of government to be found? Perhaps the Ten Commandments would be an obvious source of guidance, making a monument to those commandments appropriate on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Oklahoma's version of the Blaine Amendment reads, "No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such." The ACLU contended, and the court agreed, that the placement of a monument to the Ten Commandments violates this wording.

The monument, installed in November 2012, displays the text of the Ten Commandments and also includes three symbols: the Eye of Providence (also known as the all-seeing eye of God) that denotes the holy trinity, a Chi-Rho (two Greek letters that form a monogram for Christ) and two Stars of David. The monument was paid for with $10,000 donated by Rep. Ritze and his family, plus another $10,000 raised privately. The monument is modeled after the Ten Commandments Monument displayed outside the Texas state Capitol. In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court held that identical Ten Commandments monument constitutional in Van Orden v. Perry. On January 8 of this year, workers replaced the 2,400-pound granite Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Capitol in Oklahoma City. The original was destroyed last fall when a man, evidently suffering from mental illness, deliberately ran his car into the monument. The original monument was erected in 2012 after Ritze's bill passed the Republican-controlled legislature, and was signed into law by then-Governor Brad Henry, a Democrat."While the destruction of the original monument was tragic, this replacement is identical in every respect and we look forward to its standing the test of time," said Ritze.

Just one year after it was erected, a Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma is under fire. In August, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and the national ACLU filed suit on behalf of several Oklahomans challenging the constitutionality of the state's Ten Commandments Monument. "The monument's placement at the Capitol has created a more divisive and hostile state for many Oklahomans," said Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma's Executive Director. "When the government literally puts one faith on a pedestal, it sends a strong message to Oklahomans of other faiths that they are less than equal." The monument generated opposition from the beginning, however.

The case is Prescott v. Okla. Capitol Preservation Commission, Oklahoma County. The lead plaintiff in a lawsuit, Bruce Prescott of Norman, is an ordained Baptist minister and theologian. He is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. Other plaintiffs in the case include Jim Huff, a former educator from Oklahoma City, retired businessman Donald Chabot, also of Oklahoma City, and former social studies teacher Cheryl Franklin, of Enid. The lead plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit, Bruce Prescott of Norman, is an ordained Baptist minister, and the executive director of a liberal group which calls itself Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. Prescott used to have a weekly radio program in Oklahoma, supposedly of a Christian bent, but he usually promoted liberal political views, instead, and once provided a forum for an avowed witch. The ACLU's suit contended that the monument allowed the state government "to use its vast power and influence to tell you what you should believe."

Then, the New York-based Satanic Temple said the display of the Ten Commandments opened the door for them to seek their own monument to display the devil. The Satanic group even unveiled a design for a 7-foot-tall statue of Satan as a goat-headed figure with horns, wings, and a long beard. That was followed by proposals from a Hindu leader in Nevada, and another from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

It is expected that the Oklahoma Legislature will take action to address the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling. There have been suggestions from amendments to the Constitution, articles of impeachment for Oklahoma Supreme Court Justices and judicial reform measures which have been discussed at the Capitol for several years and for which support is now growing. Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman said: "I have visited with many of my colleagues in the House and already heard from many Oklahomans since the Oklahoma Supreme Court announced this ruling and the consensus is overwhelming that if the Court is not able to reverse this ruling then Oklahoma voters want the opportunity to correct it with an amendment to our state Constitution on Election Day in November 2016."

After Hickmans statement, state Rep. John Paul Jordan (R-Yukon) filed a constitutional amendment for the 2016 legislative session to remove the language that formed the basis for the Ten Commandments monument ruling. House Joint Resolution 1036 would place a constitutional amendment to a statewide vote to remove the cited portion of the Oklahoma Constitution . "After reviewing the Supreme Court's Ten Commandments ruling , it is clear that we have a toxic provision in our state Constitution," said Jordan,. "It was written with discrimination in mind, and like a malignant tumor, needs to be removed completely. I am under the opinion the court's strict interpretation of the language of Article 2, Section V could have far reaching implications. It could possibly lead to the Native American artwork in the Capitol and State Supreme Court buildings being removed as much of it is religious in nature. In addition, it could lead to individuals on state funded insurance programs being unable to receive medical care as a large portion of hospitals in Oklahoma are supported by a religious affiliation."

Jordan said it was imperative to correct the problems created by the ruling. "Taken to an extreme it could even lead to churches, synagogues, mosques and other buildings used for religious purposes being unable to receive police and fire protection as they would be directly or indirectly benefitting from public monies," Jordan warned.

The constitutional amendment has been filed with multiple authors, with Jordan as the principal author. The following state lawmakers are named as coauthors -- state Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman), Reps. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City), Bobby Cleveland (R-Slaughterville), Dan Fisher (R-Yukon), Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow), Lewis Moore (R-Edmond), Casey Murdock (R-Felt), John Bennett (R-Sallisaw), Chuck Strohm (R-Jenks), Mark McBride (R-Moore), Sean Roberts (R-Hominy), David Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow), Jeff Coody (R-Grandfield) and John Michael Montgomery (R-Lawton).

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